Happy Food Friday! Some (serious) food for thought....
Runners can often have weird relationships with food, and the two of us are no exception. My coach has Food Friday reminders on my training log, and it is a realistic reminder to get in calories (on all the days). I was telling Arielle about 'Food Fridays' the other day, and we got to ranting about our views on mental health, addictions and eating disorders. Just a regular chat between two friends. Both of us have experience with our own mental health issues, and unsurprisingly have opinions on the way in which society frames particular issues. The particular issue we were discussing: eating disorders.
Although neither of us are experts in the field of eating disorders or mental health, we were discussing our frustrations with eating disorders being categorized alongside body image. We believe eating disorders are mental disorders. They are separate from body image issues. They are mental health disorders in the same category as depression, addiction, anxiety, etc. Eating disorders exist because of a mental health disorder. They are a kind of addiction. For example, perhaps someone with an eating disorder has experienced trauma* in the past, and are using their relationship with food to control their world and/or get a 'high' from that control. The addict experiences a euphoria by being in control of everything they put into their body. Often, this individual controls amounts of food, obsessively counts calories, fixates on particular varieties or combinations of foods, limits their own nutritional and survival needs, etc. They live inside their own world that is clouded by their disorder. The result can make the person look physically emaciated and ill. It can also often appear appears as though this person is concerned about being 'skinny,' their appearance, and their body image. However, the disorder has various layers and is as complex as the individual. The idea of having a certain body or being 'skinny' is either just the top layer, or completely non existent within their struggles. Just like an alcoholic is in recovery indefinitely, so can someone who has suffered with an eating disorder. Even though someone may look healthy, their internal battles with food may be something they struggle with for the rest of their lives. Body image issues and eating disorders are not synonymous.
Body image issues can exist for a variety of reasons. We believe these reasons often relate to external societal influences. For example, thinking a trendy diet may make your body look a certain way, being unhappy with the way your body looks, trying to fit into a jean size, etc. There are numerous industries that make money off of convincing us that our bodies are not good enough and that change is necessary to be good enough. Although one may have body image issues throughout their whole life, it is not something that affects their quality of living on a daily basis. Body image issues can be severe, however, we don't believe they are the same as a diagnosed eating disorder.
Body image issues and eating disorders can overlap, however, we believe it is important to make the distinction. This distinction is important to us, because mental health disorders affect all kinds of people, regardless of gender, socio economic status, body type, athletic history, etc. Mental health IS health, and we think it is important to have discussions about mental health and its relation to eating disorders. We want to have conversations about mental health issues, which include the topic of eating disorders. We believe that eating disorders ought to be classified with mental health disorders.
We concluded that no matter what our brain or society was telling us, we all need more practice loving ourselves. Conclusion: Love yo-self!
*Gabor Mate is a physician, author, and world renowned speaker specializing in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction. He believes that addition of often stems from past trauma in one's life. https://drgabormate.com/topic/addiction/